In the Land of Love and Gold

Rumors

Belle was walking with Mabel through the plaza. It was there first time out of the castle since the rains started. It had been raining for a week non-stop. The roads had flooded and made it hard to get anywhere with the mud. Belle pointed out the various shops to Mabel. Mabel had a candy in her mouth and she was looking around in delight. Sometimes Mabel would see something and would drag Belle over and they would admire it together. Normally the vendors were very welcoming and gleeful when she would visit, but now they gave her blank stares and curt answers. When Belle would walk away she would hear whispers shared between the villagers. Frankie and Benjy were constantly at her side or within tripping range. She tolerated them for Mabel's sake. They seemed to be extra protective today. Belle wondered what was going on. Belle went over to a glassware stand and heard the butt end of a conversation, "-is hers." The two women gave a quick glance at Mabel.

Belle knew she wouldn't get anything out of them if she asked questions because any misgivings towards the royal family or staff were punishable by death. She didn't want to get them killed. She wasn't even sure if the rumor was about her. Belle got the items she needed and picked up Mabel. "Come on, Mabel. Let's go back to the castle." Mabel yawned and her mouth was died green. Belle chuckled and Mabel tucked her head into Belle's shoulder. Belle made sure that her shawl covered her skin. There was a cold breeze and Belle wrapped Mabel in her shawl to keep her warm. Clouds started to move in over head and Belle picked up her pace. She wanted to get back to the castle before the rain started. A light drizzle began as Belle and Mabel stepped into the front doors of the castle. Belle managed to get to the grand hall before Ruby ran towards Belle.

"Belle, did you hear?" Belle shook her head and Ruby looked around. Belle set Mabel down and handed her another piece of candy. She told Mabel to give that piece to her papa. Mabel nodded and hurried off. Ruby grabbed Belle's arm and dragged her away. Belle had a hard time keeping up with the long legged maid.

"Ruby!" She didn't stop despite Belle's protests. Ruby dragged Belle to the library and up the stairs to the second floor. Belle was dizzy from the spiral staircase that she didn't realize that Ruby was taking her to their hide out. It was the only place in the castle that was soundproof. It was a place that previous kings had conducted secret operations without fear of being overheard by enemy spies. Ruby and Belle used it when they needed to talk or to get away from the hustle and bustle of castle life. Only when they were in the room did Ruby let go of Belle. The force of the halt made Belle sit down on the cushioned floor. "Tell me what the hell is going on!" Ruby turned on her heel.

"Someone spread a rumor about you and Rummyskin." Belle stood up bristling. She clenched her fists and glared at Ruby. "They're saying that Mabel is you and the spinner's." Belle gasped. "That's why you haven't married. And that's how a nobody is now currently working as the spinner here." Belle was going to speak when the door behind her opened. Granny, Mrs. Potts, and Jefferson walked in. Belle could see Chip and Victor outside the door, blocking anyone from entering.

"Before you speak," Jefferson squeezed through to Belle. Granny and Mrs. Potts sat down next to each other on the bench. Ruby sat on the bench directly across from the older women. Belle stood, fuming, between them. Jefferson put his hands on her shoulders. She glared daggers at him. It wasn't that she was angry at him; it was that someone would assume such a horrible thing about her. "Sit down." He put her in the throne chair at the head of the room. She gripped the arm rests and it had some effect on calming her down.

"Why would an-" Belle froze. She wrapped her arms around herself. She began to shake. With anger or fear she wasn't sure. She pulled the shawl closer over her shoulders. Jefferson noticed the change in her and kneeled at her side. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Gaston." Jefferson looked around at the small group of people. "That must have been what he meant." Jefferson shook his head. He put a hand on her knee.

"Explain." Belle took a few deep breaths, but didn't open her eyes. She clenched at her shawl before she started her story. She retold everything that had happened in the library. How she and Mabel had been playing. How Gaston shoved her and Mabel. The 'secret' he was going to tell. The tension in the air was thick and when Belle opened her eyes she saw everyone on edge. They were bristling and looked ready to kill. They had heard one too many stories about Gaston. None of them good and all of them true. Jefferson reassuringly squeezed her leg. "Belle why didn't you tell us." She shook her head and tears formed in her eyes.

"I thought I could deal with it." She sobbed and Granny spoke up.

"How is this man still in the castle? Is there any special reason that he is still around?" Granny's anger could be felt by everyone in the room. Belle wiped at her face and looked away.

"Please, leave me." Belle said in a small voice. Everyone stared at her for a moment before Mrs. Potts knocked on the door three times. Victor opened the door and looked in. Granny and Ruby left first. Jefferson gave her a worried glance. She couldn't look at him. Mrs. Potts stood up and gave Belle a hug. The woman who practically raised her gave her a kiss on her forehead and left. There was talking just outside the door and someone stepped in. "I said to leave." Belle snapped. She looked and Rumple stood in front of the door. He looked around in embarrassment.

"I'm sorry, I can go." Belle shook her head and motioned for him to sit. He chose a seat next to her and Belle wiped at her crying eyes. Rumple handed her a handkerchief. She smiled sadly and cleaned her appearance. "Chip cornered me and told me I had to be here or the universe would collapse within itself." Belle chuckled and she handed him his handkerchief back.

"I didn't mean to snap at you." Rumple took the cloth and put it back in his pocket. He didn't look up to shake his head.

"I understand." He looked at her and she reached her hand out. He grabbed it with his own and gently rubbed circles over her knuckle. "What is it that's troubling you, Princess?" Belle coughed and put her head back on the chair.

"Then you haven't heard?" Rumple shook his head. He wanted to know who made Belle cry so. It angered him to see her so upset. She should never be sad. She should always have that beautiful smile on her face and that twinkle in her eye. Belle took a deep breath and pulled at her shawl with her free hand. "Gaston spread a rumor that Mabel is mine." Rumpelstiltskin twisted his face up in confusion. "And yours." Rumple's face contorted in understanding and anger.

"What would give him the impression that that was even a possibility?" Rumple gripped at his staff. He was glaring at Belle, but she knew it wasn't aimed at her. She gave him a soft look. He simmered down and slouched on the bench. He tapped his fingers on his walking stick as a nervous tic.

"I'm sorry, Rumple, I didn't want to drag you into this." He looked at Belle with a reassuring glance. He squeezed her hand. She squeezed back. There was a knock on the door and they both looked over. Chip stuck his head in the door.

"You've been summoned, ma'am." Belle gave Rumple one last look before she left the small hideout. Rumple sighed deeply and whispered,

"I'll make this better, Belle."

xXx

Night was falling and Rumple was working still. He had a light nearby, but the candle was surely going to go out soon. He couldn't sleep. He was plagued by the horrible things that were being said about Belle. Because of him. He decided to cure his insomnia by working on an order that would be needed for the fall festival. His hands were dry from working all day, but he just continued to spin. He noticed his bobbin was full and grabbed an empty one. As he was replacing it he saw someone look into the room. They were a small figure that hunched over when they peered into the dark room. Rumple looked over and they pulled at their rags. Rumpelstiltskin stepped forward, feeling nostalgic with his tailored uniform while this person was in rags.

"Excuse me?" Rumple started. The person looked up and the hood fell back. The man was older, about Rumple's age. He had his hands out in a beggar's cup. Rumple felt his heart squeeze as he remembered those days from what felt like centuries ago.

"Could you spare any food?" Rumple nodded and let the old beggar into his work room. He kept light snacks all around in case of nights like this when he stayed up. He grabbed a half a loaf of bread and brought it to the old man. He looked at it like it was an otherworldly deity. Rumple gave him the entire half loaf.

"I can bring you more if you please?" The old man shook his head as he ripped off a piece of bread. He finished a few chunks before he could talk. He swallowed harshly as though his mouth was parched. Rumple got up and cleaned out a cup and poured some water in there. He walked back over to the old man. He shook his head, but Rumple offered it again. The old man took the water and drank it greedily. Rumple sat down feeling satisfied that the man was fed and had some water. He looked ragged and bone thin.

"You are a kind soul." Rumple looked away feeling embarrassed. He rubbed his hands together as silence continued to linger in the small room. The old man munched on the bread. "Your wife must be proud of such an industrious husband." Rumple blushed and shook his head, his hand reflexively moving to his ring finger. He toyed with the yarn there.

"I'm not married." The old man reeled in shock. He stopped chewing and motioned to Rumple's hand with his last piece of bread. Rumple looked down and blushed again. "We're not married. You could call us engaged, but…." Rumple looked off to the far wall. He felt anger, sadness, remorse, and sorrow all bubbling up to his skin. He felt uncomfortable with just sitting. He wanted to move around, but his leg hurt too much from spinning all day to wander.

"What?" The old man gave Rumple a curious look. He leaned forward to encourage Rumple to tell his tale. Rumple took a deep breath and shook his hair from his eyes. He leaned back in his stool and flexed his hand on his walking stick before speaking,

"I was hired by the princess of this castle…" Rumple told the story of his time here and all of Hatter's insane schemes and his time in the infirmary and about Belle. The beggar listened with rapt attention. He made the appropriate remarks here and there as the spinner told his tale. "…and now we're just waiting." The old man nodded. He finished of his bread, giving himself time to think.

"There's a way to solve your problem." The beggar said between chews. He swallowed and drank some water. Rumple looked over at him with renewed interest. "It's foretold that the Dark One is not as powerful as everyone believes." Rumple remembers tales of the Dark One. Killing for pleasure, torturing people, and taking children. "There's a blade that controls the Dark One. If you can get the blade you can have the power of the Dark One," Rumple could almost feel the power overwhelming him. He wouldn't know what to do with that sort of control. "Imagine having all of that power at your beck and call. Do as you please and you wouldn't have to worry about people getting in your way." The beggar nodded furiously to get Rumple to agree. Rumple thought it over. He played with the idea over in his head. He thought of all the different outcomes and all but one seemed favorable. He stood up grabbing a piece of bread. He took a bite out of it and mulled over his final actions before swallowing and sitting back down.

"What do I have to do?" The old beggar gave a sly smirk and lowered his gaze.

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